By Bill Federer
He was imprisoned 12 years for preaching without a license from the government. This was John Bunyan, who died Aug. 31, 1688, the year of William and Mary’s Glorious Revolution in England, just a few years after William Penn founded Pennsylvania and the enormous Ottoman Muslim army was defeated at the Battle of Vienna.
John Bunyan was born in Bedford, England, in 1628, nearly a century before the Age of Enlightenment. He worked as a poor, unskilled tinker by trade. In 1657, at age 29, he became a Baptist minister and was arrested for having religious meetings, being imprisoned 1660-1672 and 1675-1676.
John Bunyan wrote in “A Relation of My Imprisonment”: “The justice … issued out his warrant to take me … as if we that were to meet together … to do some fearful business, to the destruction of the country; when alas! the constable, when he came in, found us only with our Bibles in our hands, ready to speak and hear the word of God. … So I was taken and forced to depart. … But before I went away, I spake some few words of counsel and encouragement to the people, declaring to them … that they would not be discouraged, for it was a mercy to suffer upon so good account. … We suffer as Christians. … Better be the persecuted, than the persecutors.”
During his imprisonment, John Bunyan supported his family by making shoelaces. It was during this time that he began writing “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” eventually published in 1678. It was an allegory of a pilgrim, named Christian, who fled from the City of Destruction and was directed by Evangelist to follow the straight and narrow path. He overcame temptations, depressions, deceptions, and persecutions till he reached the Celestial City of Zion. The friends and dangers that Christian met along the way inspired many subsequent novels, such as:
- Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad or the New Pilgrim’s Progress” (1869)
- C.S. Lewis’ “Pilgrim’s Regress” (1933)
- L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” (1900)
John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” was translated into over 100 languages and, after the Bible, was the world’s best-seller for hundreds of years. It was found in nearly every colonial New England home, along with the Bible and Fox’s Book of Martyrs.
Ben Franklin wrote in his “Autobiography”: “From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books. Pleased with The Pilgrim’s Progress, my first collection was of John Bunyan’s works in separate little volumes. …”
Franklin continued: “My old favorite author, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress … has been translated into most of the languages of Europe, and suppose it has been more generally read than any other book, except perhaps the Bible.”
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President Grover Cleveland had memorized “The Pilgrim’s Progress” as a youth, commenting: “I have always felt that my training as a minister’s son has been more valuable to me as a strengthening influence than any other incident in life.”
President Theodore Roosevelt stated while laying the cornerstone of the office building of the House of Representatives, April 14, 1906: “In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress you may recall the description of the man with the muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck-rake in his hand, who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote Jan. 19, 1936: “When Theodore Roosevelt died, the Secretary of his class at Harvard, in sending classmates a notice of his passing, added this quotation from Pilgrim’s Progress: ‘My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will be my rewarder.’”
President Bill Clinton remarked at the retirement of General Colin Powell in Arlington, Virginia, Sept. 30, 1993: “General Powell, I am reminded of the words of another young valiant warrior, spoken when, like you, he was finishing one journey and beginning a second. John Bunyan wrote in Pilgrim’s Progress of the warrior valiant at the end of his life, as he prepared to present himself to the Almighty, ‘My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage and my courage and skill to him that can get them. My marks and scars I carry with me to be a witness for me, to Him who shall be my rewarder.’”
President Ronald Reagan greeted Australia’s prime minister, June 30, 1981, referring to John Bunyan: “Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, ‘We are all travelers in what John Bunyan calls the wilderness of this world. And the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend – they keep us worthy of ourselves.”
John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” began: “As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and, as he read, he wept, and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, What shall I do?”
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Later in “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” John Bunyan wrote: “Christian ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross. … So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back.”
Further in “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” John Bunyan wrote:
Then said Christian, You make me afraid, but whither shall I fly to be safe? … To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life-everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward. … Frighted with the sight of the lions … Christian said to himself again, These beasts range in the night for their prey; and if they should meet with me in the dark … how should I escape being by them torn in pieces? …
He lift up his eyes, and behold there was a very stately palace before him … He entered into a very narrow passage … he espied two lions in the way. … The porter at the lodge … perceiving that Christian made a halt as if he would go back, cried unto him, saying, Is thy strength so small? Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that had none. Keep in the midst of the path, and no hurt shall come unto thee. …
He went on, trembling for fear of the lions, but taking good heed to the directions of the porter; he heard them roar, but they did him no harm. …
But now, in this Valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it … a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him; his name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground.
But he considered again that he had no armor for his back; and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him the greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts. Therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground. …
The monster was hideous to behold; he was clothed with scales … wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke. … Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way, and said … prepare thyself to die; for I swear by my infernal den, that thou shalt go no further; here will I spill thy soul.
And with that he threw a flaming dart at his breast; but Christian had a shield in his hand, with which he caught it. … Apollyon as fast made at him, throwing darts as thick as hail; by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot. …
This sore combat lasted for above half a day, even till Christian was almost quite spent; for you must know that Christian, by reason of his wounds, must needs grow weaker and weaker. …
Christian’s sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, I am sure of thee now. And with that he had almost pressed him to death, so that Christian began to despair of life; but as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly stretched out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying, Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall I shall arise; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back. …
And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon’s wings, and sped him away, that Christian for a season saw him no more. …
A more unequal match can hardly be, –
Christian must fight an angel; but you see,
The valiant man by handling Sword and Shield,
Doth make him, though a Dragon, quit the field.
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